Taking client surveys to the Cloud
Original Article can be found here, by Ian Mundell:
Starred is a recent start-up with a new take on an old problem: how does a business find out what its clients are thinking? The service that it has developed, delivered as software in the Cloud, promises companies better information, gathered with less annoyance to their clients.
Lars van Wieren was inspired to set up Starred by seeing client satisfaction surveys in action while he was working for Google in Amsterdam. He was less than impressed. Once a year a long survey would go out, via a research agency. Two months later a lengthy report would come back, and resolutions would be made to address its findings.
But a month later the report would be gathering dust and the findings forgotten. The clients remembered, however, and when the next annual survey came around they wanted to know why they had to answer the same old questions if no-one was listening.
The only people this system seemed to suit were the research agencies. “They can charge by the hour, so it is in their interest to make a long survey, analyse a lot of data and build a big report,” van Wieren says. “At Google I learned that, if you put the user first, then the rest will follow. So I decided to change this market, and look at it through the eyes of the feedback-giver.”
He found that clients do not mind answering short questionnaires, if the questions are pertinent and they feel the answers will be heard. So the system he put together makes companies focus their questions onto a single page, typically consisting of six fields. These brief online surveys are repeated every three months, producing a constant stream of data to follow up. Clients get a response, and are soon canvassed again to see if they are satisfied with any improvements.
An important factor in turning this idea into a business has been an increasing number of companies using cloud computing services. This means they can easily take on the software that Starred has devised, and integrate the survey tool into their corporate websites.
Other developments in the way people behave online have also helped. The Twitter imperative that everything can be summed up in 140 characters means that focus and brevity are now part of online culture. This helps companies accept to the limits of the survey, and even benefit from the process of choosing which questions to ask.
People are also more relaxed now about putting their names to feedback rather than commenting anonymously. Named feedback means that unhappy clients can be identified, contacted and perhaps prevented from taking their business elsewhere. Equally, clients who love the company can be earmarked as potential promoters.
Starred writes software to create a tool that companies can use to canvass clients with questions and process the feedback. Typically, it provides a dashboard that shows the survey results and flags up broad areas for improvement or, perhaps specific clients who are not happy.
The greatest challenge for van Wieren in building up his business has been recruitment, with employment agencies demanding the same fees from start-ups such as Starred as they do from large, established companies. He currently has ten staff based in Amsterdam. Tax rules have made it hard to hire staff on flexible terms, for instance with lower starting salaries but attractive stock options.
While some internet businesses struggle to find a business model, Starred found one that worked relatively early. “After a year we were sending out first invoices,” says van Wieren. It charges a monthly fee for the service, from €99 for small companies up to €399 for larger enterprises.
Initially he thought that small companies would be the most promising market, but large companies proved more fruitful. “Feedback is high on every company’s agenda. Big companies may already have a customer excellence manager or client satisfaction manager, and there is quite some budget to make it happen.”
Meanwhile Starred has had interest from intermediaries – “client satisfaction gurus” – who would like to adopt its product. “That kind of reseller approach would be great for us.”
So far most of Starred’s business has been in the Netherlands, with the bank ABN AMRO among its most prestigious clients, but it also works with companies such as Microsoft and DHL across multiple territories. Later this year it is planning a venture capital round to support a launch in the UK, Germany and perhaps Denmark. Taking on the United States remains an ambition for the future. “If we moved to the States right now, it would be too early,” says van Wieren. “I want our product to become more mature.”
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Business sector: Software as a service
International markets: EU